A scaffolding demonstration was held during the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America’s first-ever International Scaffolding Conference.
U.S. Carpenters’ centre hosts first-ever scaffolding conference
For members of Carpenters’ unions and affiliated contractors across Ontario, a winter getaway to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America centre (UBC) in Las Vegas in mid-February was rewarding for more than the sunny, warm weather.
That is because the UBC held its first-ever International Scaffolding Conference — a two-day affair that drew 450 delegates across Canada and the U.S. to hear speakers address everything from safety and labour issues to advanced training models and emerging technologies.
Jim Smith, vice-president of Canada for UBC and chair of the conference, told delegates that the role scaffolding contractors play on worksites is increasingly critical to the success of their building partners on jobsites.
Instrumental in organizing the conference which was themed Planning Today for Tomorrow, Smith said, “The UBC has invested considerable time, resources into planning and preparing tomorrow’s scaffolder.”
Safety, he said, is the top priority for the union’s members and its partners. “For the UBC scaffolders and our contractors, it is particularly important due to the heights and dangerous conditions.”
At a panel session on workforce assessment, Roger Marsland, president-elect of the of the Scaffold Industry Association of Canada (SIAC) Ontario chapter, emphasized the importance of scaffold training. “You can’t become a scaffolder with only 40 hours of training.”
Marsland, president of Scafom Canada, said tops on SIAC’s wishlist is for the industry to achieve a designated trade status, like so many other trades. Only in Alberta is there a government-accredited three-year apprenticeship program.
Marsland told delegates that increased training improves the likelihood that when contractors like Scafom Canada work in different regions of Ontario the workers they retain from local unions will have the requisite skills for the scaffolding job.
“We don’t want carpenters, we want scaffolders.”
Held at UBC’s headquarters and training centre in suburban Las Vegas, the conference drew 175 contractor delegates — a good sign that the building industry is taking notice of the issues scaffolders face, said Doug Banes, first vice-president, UBC.
“Without the participation of contractors and owners like you, we’re just talking to ourselves.”
But the scaffolding industry still has a ways to go. The SIAC, which “struggles to have a voice” in provincial legislation, is pushing for collaboration with provincial labour management committees and carpenters trade committees on key health and safety issues, said Marsland, who trained 40 years ago in the field in England — where scaffolding is an indentured trade.
The conference featured a session on emerging technologies in which Terry Olynyk, manager of PCL Constructors, renewable energy division, described the solar farm industry in Ontario as a burgeoning market and scaffolding contractors have proved a perfect fit for that type of work.
To build a typical 10 megawatt solar farm in the province requires 180-200 workers. Anywhere between 60-85 workers are needed just for racking and solar module installation.
Through a contract with Recurrent Energy, PCL has had only eight months to build 14 solar farms totaling 107 megawatts throughout southern and eastern Ontario. To gear up for the projects, training was established at several union training centres in Ontario.
“It’s good work and if this kind of program continues it can employ many workers throughout Ontario, Canada and North America,” Olynyk told the audience.
The two-day conference included an address by Gary Doer, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S., who said improving the aging infrastructure of transmission lines in Canada and the U.S. is important and it will open the door to more scaffolding work.
The former premier of Manitoba added that Canada and the U.S. could be “energy secure” in the next five years if it develops its own energy efficiency, energy renewables and oil. Getting the green light for the Keystone pipeline would bring the two countries a step closer to energy independence.
“We strongly support all of your efforts with your union (UBC) supporting the scaffolding agenda. We would go with your union scaffolding proposal.”